DEFENCE secretary Gavin Williamson has praised the crew of a Portsmouth warship who faced down ‘brazen Russian hostility’ in the Black Sea.
Mr Williamson said HMS Duncan’s crew ‘epitomised’ the best of Britain’s values as they remained calm in the face of ‘unprecedented’ air raid by 17 Russian jets off the coast of Crimea earlier this year.
Mr Williamson said: ‘Over the past year, HMS Duncan and her crew have embodied the key role the UK plays in Nato.
‘As Nato flagship, she has faced down brazen Russian hostility in the Black Sea with jets buzzing overhead, been stalked by Russian spy ships and played a vital role protecting Nato allies during the British, American and French strikes against Syrian chemical weapons facilities.
‘Through her deployment, this world-leading ship and her crew epitomised the nation we are going to be as we exit the EU - a truly global Britain which is outward-looking and engaged on the world stage.’
His comments come as Ukraine today put its military on ‘full alert’ after Russian coastguard ships allegedly opened fire on three Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea last night.
The Ukrainian navy claimed three of its ships were seized by Russian special forces near the Kerch Strait, with six six sailors injured in the raid.
Russia accused Ukraine of deliberately provoking the incident by entering its territorial waters.
However, Donald Tusk, European Council president, has condemned the action by Russia and urged Moscow to stop provoking Ukraine.
He tweeted: ‘I condemn Russian use of force in Azov Sea’, and added that ‘Russian authorities must return Ukrainian sailors, vessels and refrain from further provocations.
He said he has discussed the developments with Ukrainian leaders and added: ‘Europe will stay united in support of Ukraine.’
An emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council has been called while the European Union Nato pleaded for restraint and calm from both sides.
Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, said he was concerned by the hostilities shown towards Duncan and her crew but praised their resolve.
The Labour politician said: ‘I know Portsmouth is immensely proud of all the crew of HMS Duncan for their bravery, calm and professionalism in the face of shocking aggression from Russian jets. Our Royal Navy is once again proving it is the finest out there.’
HMS Duncan’s documentary, Warship: All at Sea begins tonight at 9pm.
It follows the journey of the Type 45 destroyer and her 280-strong crew as they led a Nato task force in the Black Sea and took part in an operation which saw a Syrian chemical weapons factory being being bombed.
Speaking at the time of the raid against Duncan, which saw no shots fired from either side, Commodore Mike Utley - who was the Nato task force commander - said: ‘HMS Duncan is probably the only maritime asset that has seen a raid of that magnitude in the last 25 years.’
Duncan is the most modern of the Royal Navy’s £6bn fleet of six destroyers, which are all based in Portsmouth.